Welcome once again to the abyss, ladies and gentleman, for another insightful film review from the cave. This week’s feature is a dramatic effort from first time director Aaron Schneider called Get Low. As a first time director, Mr. Schneider couldn’t possibly have asked for a better cast than he received in this depression-era piece. Oscar winner and perennial Hollywood icon Robert Duvall (Apocalypse Now, Secondhand Lions, as well as a gajillion other outstanding movies over the last three decades) plays the lead role of Felix Bush, a crotchety old hermit who has spent the majority of his life in seclusion and earned a frightful reputation with the local townsfolk. During one of his rare forays into town, Felix learns of the death of another hermit and begins to consider his own mortality. Felix knows there are many outlandish stories about him, and he wonders just what everyone really thinks of him. Also, Felix has been in self-imposed exile for most of his life under the guilty burden of a terrible secret that he desperately wants to air out before his own inevitable demise.
Felix decides that he will plan his own funeral, but he will attend it while he is still alive! Felix wants to know what others think of him, so he decides to invite anyone who has a story to tell about him. He offers a local reverend played by Gerald McRaney (best known for his roles on TV’s Simon and Simon and Major Dad) a large sum of money to host his premature funeral. The Preacher is uncomfortable with the idea of a living funeral, and he is also concerned because of the rumors that surround Felix, so he declines the invitation. While mentioning the idea, Felix is overheard by a local man named Buddy played by Lucas Black (Legion, Jarhead). Buddy is a kind soul who wants the old man’s wishes to be honored, so he takes the idea to his boss, the down-on-his-luck and unscrupulous local funeral director Frank Quinn, played expertly by another of Hollywood’s All-Stars, Bill Murray (What About Bob?, Ghostbusters, and you know the rest…) . Quinn immediately senses an opportunity for financial gain, and goes about organizing the funeral party for Felix.
Since he is a hermit, and since he has a less than favorable reputation, Felix decides that he will raffle off his 300 acres of land for a lucky attendee to inherit upon his death. This ensures that a large crowd will attend Felix’s funeral party, and indeed a large amount of people turn out. The true motivation for the party is for Felix to clear his conscience of a terrible secret he has harbored for nearly 40 years, one which is known only by another preacher in a different town who once heard his confession a long time ago. Bill Cobbs (Ghosts of Mississippi, The Hudsucker Proxy) plays Reverend Charlie Jackson, and he too is reluctant to attend what he thinks will be a shallow spectacle and an embarrassment for his old friend. Felix has second thoughts about his plan, but unwilling to take a loss, Quinn uses all of his sly abilities to keep the funeral party on schedule. Felix’s shocking confession is most relevant to an old woman named Mattie Darrow, played by Sissy Spacek (Carrie, Tuck Everlasting). Long ago, Felix and Mattie had a unique relationship which ended abruptly when the tragedy Felix has been keeping secret for so long separated them. Felix desperately wants Mattie to know the truth, but he is unsure if he will be able to tell her.
This movie has many strong qualities. The actors are exceptional, the story is original, the cinematography is beautiful and artistically filmed, and Bill Murray successfully manages to weave dry humor into an otherwise gloomy tale. Duvall is wonderful as always, and the other actors in the piece all provide quality performances. The film crawls along at a terrifyingly slow pace, however, and when the audience finally learns Felix’s dark secret near the end, it seems almost too built up. The characters are well written and well played, but for some reason, and I can’t really explain why, they just didn’t seem to make enough of a connection for me to genuinely care a great deal for them. The movie runs for 100 minutes, which seems like about forty minutes too long for the content of the tale.
The bottom line is this: There is no good reason why I should have disliked this movie, but for some reason, I did. The film has everything a movie fan could ask for, yet it still falls short. I think, perhaps, this movie is a little out of place for the times. Modern audiences are subjected to so much more depth and drama than is in this movie because of the complexities and lack of taboos that exist not only in our movies, but in our modern culture and society. The “Big Secret” doesn’t seem as shocking as it should nowadays, and I truly believe if this film had been made in the 1950’s, it would have been viewed as an edgy masterpiece. I almost feel guilty for not enjoying this movie, because it really was well made. I can honestly say that this is the best movie I have ever seen that I didn’t like. You should, however, give this movie a chance.
It’s worth watching, if only to discover whether or not you’ve become as jaded as I have…